Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Tim Beckman steps down from volunteer post at North Carolina

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 16:  Head coach Tim Beckman of the Illinois Fighting Illini gives instructions to his team against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Tim Beckman will no longer volunteer with North Carolina’s football program, it was announced Thursday night.

Head coach Larry Fedora indicated Wednesday his friend and former Illinois head coach was worth the cyclical round of bad press, but this statement from his boss indicated the decision was never run up the proverbial flag pole. Said UNC chancellor Carol Folt:

“When I first learned yesterday that Coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed. The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward I don’t expect this situation to recur. I continue to put a great deal of trust in Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham and Coach Fedora to educate and develop our student-athletes and to ensure we meet the high standards we all expect at Carolina.”

Fedora agreed, or at least it was decided for him that he would agree.

“Tim will no longer serve as a volunteer with our program. I brought Tim here to help a friend gain experience from our staff, but after meeting with him today, we agreed his presence had become too much of a distraction.”

Added Beckman:

“I appreciate the opportunity Coach Fedora gave me to stay connected to the sport and be around one of the best staffs in the country.  His willingness to help a friend was a benefit both personally and professionally.  I do not wish to be a further distraction to the team or University and I will no longer serve as a volunteer at UNC. I wish Larry and the program nothing but success going forward.”

Beckman was forced out at Illinois nearly a year ago today after an investigation by a Chicago law firm uncovered a culture of player mistreatment, where Beckman and his assistants routinely pressured players to play through major injuries, and belittled and threatened those who would not.

Beckman sat out the 2016 season, and now he’ll sit out the ’17 campaign as well.

Stanford names Ryan Burns starting QB; Keller Chryst to see action

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 1: Head coach David Shaw looks up at the scoreboard during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 45-16. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Stanford has named Ryan Burns its starting quarterback, head coach David Shaw announced after practice on Wednesday evening.

A senior, Burns did not throw a pass last season. The only dent he recorded on the Cardinal’s stat sheet was 13 rushing yards on four carries.

Shaw also noted junior Keller Chryst will also see action in Stanford’s opener against Kansas State next Friday night.

“Ryan Burns will start and play a good chunk of the game,” said Shaw. “Keller Chryst will play as well. We’re going to play both guys and try to win a game.

“There hasn’t been a huge separation between the two. Both guys have played extremely well. Ryan has been enough ahead to get the nod.”

Burns has completed one pass in his career — a 13-yard connection against UC Davis in 2014.

Given that lack of experience, it’s a safe bet Burns’ (and Chryst’s) top objectives will be “get it to Christian,” “get it to Christian,” and “for the love of all that’s holy, get it to Christian.”

Stanford enters the season with an FBS-leading streak of 13 straight games reaching at least 30 points.

NCAA reportedly interviewing former Ole Miss recruits in probe into Rebels’ recruiting

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:  Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Mississippi Rebels celebrate his touchdown with teammates during the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in  the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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You had to know Laremy Tunsil‘s draft night wouldn’t end on draft night.

In addition to costing him millions of dollars, the screenshots posted on the former Ole Miss offensive tackle’s Instagram account, the NCAA launched an investigation into the Rebels’ recruiting arm which, according to a report from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde, has now expanded beyond Tunsil.

Per Yahoo:

NCAA Enforcement representatives have visited Auburn and Mississippi State, and perhaps at least one more SEC Western Division school, this summer to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss. The players were granted immunity from potential NCAA sanctions in exchange for truthful accounts of their recruitment, sources said.

Those interviews indicate that the NCAA investigation has expanded beyond the spring focus on former All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Ole Miss was already in the midst of a lengthy investigation which accused the Rebels of 28 violations — 13 of which came in football and nine under Hugh Freeze. The investigation was nearing its end until the draft night hack.

In the meantime, Ole Miss’s 2017 recruiting efforts have taken a beating.

The 11th-ranked Rebels open their season next Monday night against No. 4 Florida State in Orlando (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Eyewitnesses say officers assaulted Notre Dame CB Devin Butler

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Trenton Irwin #2 of the Stanford Cardinal is tackled by Max Redfield #10 and Devin Butler #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Eyewitness testimony of Devin Butler‘s girlfriend and the fiancee of Fighting Irish wide receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., say the Notre Dame cornerback was a victim of police brutality during his weekend arrest.

South Bend police say Butler assaulted an officer, punching and slamming him to the ground, which necessitated the use of a stun gun to subdue him. From the AP:

South Bend police spokesman Lt. Joe Galea said that after officers broke up a fight inside the bar they saw two women fighting outside when Butler allegedly shoved one of the women. Butler was agitated and when officers told him to back away he allegedly pushed the officers and then attacked one of them.

The affidavit says Butler tackled an officer to the ground, punched him several times in the side and stomach and pulled off his duty belt.

“He shouted profanities at the officers and started swinging his fist,” Galea said of Butler.

But the eyewitnesses paint a picture diametrically opposed to the account of South Bend police. Butler’s girlfriend Haleigh Bailey told the South Bend Tribune:

“I was there that entire night. Reports say that everyone left the scene but I was still there and saw everything officers did to Devin.

“He was abused, and wrongly arrested. He never tackled an officer and he never intentionally hurt anyone. He had no reason to be tazed because he was never resisting arrest, and he was already on the ground complying when they tazed him.”

Butler has been charged with resisting law enforcement and battery of a police officer — both of which are felonies. He pleaded not guilty.

Police were originally called to the Linebacker bar early Saturday morning after a call reporting fights between patrons and bar security. Bar personnel said the fight was subdued by the time police arrived, but officers intervened in a fight between two women outside the bar. That’s when, police say, Butler shoved one of the women involved. Officers tried to detain Butler, but he resisted and ultimately assaulted the officers. Officer Aaron Knepper was evaluated for minor injuries to his back, arm, elbow and wrist at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital, but was later released.

“That 100 percent did not happen,” Selina Bell, Hunter’s fiancee, told the paper. “Devin didn’t even have the capability to pick someone up if he wanted to. He just got off of crutches the day before.”

Butler underwent surgery in June for a fractured foot, a aggravation of an injury he originally suffered in the Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss in January.

Added Bailey, in a message to the Tribune:“Reports say that Devin did all of these aggressive things but in reality, he was grabbed by the police from behind and never told who was grabbing him or why they were grabbing him. Devin felt he was doing the right thing but out of nowhere was arrested for simply stopping an argument. He felt he had no reason to be detained… Devin has been in a boot/cast and on crutches recovering for the past 8 weeks. He is in no condition to be lifting weights, working out, or doing any ‘tackling.’ I have not seen him run let alone walk on two feet since the day before his surgery in June. I can assure you he did NOT tackle a police officer but police officers tackled HIM.”

Knepper was found guilty of unconstitutional behavior earlier this month for unlawfully entering a home and mistakenly using a Taser on a 17-year-old boy earlier this month. He was reprimanded in August of 2012 for forcing a 7-Eleven clerk to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon and eat 10 crackers in less than a minute, and in March of 2014 a 55-year-old South Bend resident and his 76-year-old mother accused Knepper of excessive force resulting from a traffic stop in which they were accused of resisting arrest and battering a police officer.